Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) President Winston Smith says the first day of the new academic year showed that while there are still major problems with connectivity across the island, there have been some improvements to the systems that are in place for virtual learning.
As the island continues to experience an explosion in COVID-19 infections, schools returned to virtual and audio-visual lessons yesterday.
“It’s almost like starting a hundred-metre race… we would have been on the warm-up track, as time progressed we moved to the starting line, we are coming down the stretch, but we are moving very slow because we are hampered by a lack of devices, lack of connectivity, and the impact of death upon our students and teachers who are mourning and suffering emotional pain, coupled with the fact that we are not properly paid,” Smith told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
“So, all of those factors put in one melting pot creates a reduction in the rate at which we could travel. But we are not at the same point where we started, simply because we must give credit where credit is due,” he reasoned.
Smith pointed out that the Ministry of Education, working with the Jamaica Teaching Council, has worked hard to shore up the technological competencies of teachers across the island. He noted also that the JTA has made monetary contribution towards outfitting teachers with devices.
Smith said several schools reported moderate to severe connectivity issues yesterday, including some in rural St Andrew, and that the JTA remains gravely concerned at this time about the issue, especially for students and teachers in deep rural Jamaica.
“The Ministry of Education has promised that they’re going to be rolling out a pilot programme for high-speed Internet which has started, so we are hopeful that as time progresses, it takes full effect and we can see some improvement. The greater concern is for the deep rural parishes,” he stressed.
In the meantime, Smith noted that the JTA has not yet received any formal word from the Government about the differential payment for teachers which Prime Minister Andrew Holness recently announced. However, he said the current COVID-19 crisis gripping the nation would understandably take precedence.
“I’m not positing a decision for the prime minister, but we can understand his inability because the health of our nation is of far more importance,” he said.
In her national broadcast on Sunday, Education Minister Fayval Williams said the ministry would be redoubling efforts to make contact with students who have not showed up online during the last school year for classes, and who it had not been able to reach since last year March.
According to the education ministry, there are 120,000 such students.
“We must remain true to our mission of not leaving any child behind,” Williams said.